The pitched battle being fought by Amazon.com Inc., authors and publishers over the price of books is sad to watch. What they fail to recognize is that in the world of digital literature, book ownership will soon be an anachronism.
The fight has heated up in recent weeks as Amazon tries to squeeze lower prices out of publishing company Hachette Book Group Inc. by limiting customers’ access to its books, and authors such as Stephen King, John Grisham and Michael Lewis call on their readers to flood the inbox of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos with angry emails.
The publishers and authors say Amazon – which is estimated to control 65 percent of the e-book market – is unfairly exploiting its near-monopoly position. The online bookseller says e-books should be cheaper than printed ones because the marginal cost of producing an electronic copy is zero.
Readers are getting a raw deal from everyone. Amazon’s tactics are interfering with book availability: Foraging elsewhere for the title you want can be a chore if you use a Kindle or are accustomed to buying from Amazon. Also, it’s true that prices are unjustifiably high given the cost of producing e-books. In Russia, for example, where book piracy is much more of a threat than in the U.S., electronic bookseller Litres.ru manages to sell nonpirated e-books for half of what Amazon charges.
This is not a desperate battle over a shrinking market like that of the music industry. Data from 2009 suggest that U.S. children and teens were actually spending more time per day reading books for pleasure than a decade earlier – a good sign for the industry’s demographics.